02 November 2009

Row Over UK Science Advice After Advisor Sacked

UPDATE: More details on this episode here at the Times.

The UK Government has fired the chairman of a scientific advisory committee for advancing views that it finds uncomfortable with respect to current policy. According to the BBC:

Colleagues of the government drugs adviser sacked by [Home Secretary] Alan Johnson say they have "serious concerns" about his decision and whether they can continue.

Two drugs advisory panel members quit in protest when Prof David Nutt was fired for comments on cannabis policy.

The home secretary faces MPs' questions about Prof Nutt, who, he says, crossed a line between advice and campaigning.

Other members have asked to meet Mr Johnson and some question whether they can continue in "good conscience".

Prof Nutt, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs was sacked on Friday after using a lecture to say that cannabis was less harmful than alcohol and tobacco
Mark Easton of the BBC has a nice overview:
Far from using independent experts to "lend credibility to public pronouncements about risk" (in the ACMD's case, the risk from illegal drugs), the home secretary wants them to stay silent because "it is important that the government's messages on drugs are clear and as an adviser you do nothing to undermine public understanding of them". The two resignations today suggest Professor Nutt's sacking may prove to be an important moment in the relationship between government and the experts who advise it.
He provides an image of the letter to Prof. Nutt announcing his termination, reproduced below.